by Dr Boyce Watkins
For many years, I’ve told my students in The Black Wealth Bootcamp that Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg is one of the great entrepreneurs of this generation. His company has generated billions out of nowhere, and until this point, the company appeared to be efficiently run.
But last week, I became confused when the popular social media platform began what appeared to be a systematic purge of nearly all of my African American friends for sharing or posting even the most harmless content. I’ve had friends get their accounts suspended for posting links to articles, quoting racist statements in American history or sharing controversial news stories. I even know someone who was suspended for reciting a poem.
It started when I received a 30-day ban for posting an article about a black historical incident. The article told the story about the game “Hit the Coon,” that was played at state fairs when whites would throw baseballs at the heads of black children to make them fall into water. Yes, these were the sick things that have been historically done to black people in this country for entertainment.
Apparently, the Facebook bots found the word “Coon” to be in violation of their highly ambiguous community standards, which caused me to receive the ban.
Once I received notification of the ban, I let my team know that I’d be taking a Facebook vacation for a while. I looked forward to the peace of mind that comes when you no longer feel the need to check your phone every 20 minutes or reply to all of the people in your inbox.
As I mentioned to one of my friends that I would not be on Facebook for a while, she responded, “I’ve been blocked too.”
I said, “For what?”
She said, “Because I shared an article with the title, “Tyler Perry tells Spike Lee to shut the hell up.”
I said, “Seriously? Didn’t that story come out about 3 or 4 years ago?
“Yea, it did,” she said.
After hearing from my first fellow Facebook jail inmate, I heard from another friend who runs a very large African American educational page with over half a million followers. This friend had been suspended because he reposted a media quote that a racist white man made about NBA star LeBron James. I was surprised that my friend was kicked out, because I’ve never seen him curse on Facebook and he’s not one to use hate speech toward anyone.
But that wasn’t it.
Over the next three days, I heard from no less than eight different people, all black, who told me that Facebook had booted them for various periods of time. Many of these people were simply teaching black history online, sharing their political views, speaking truth to power, or simply providing news articles from mainstream media websites.
The worst part about these dismissals is that Facebook is now digging through years and years of content, grabbing articles every single day that their bots have decided are in violation of a set of really strange community standards. Each time I try to login, I am getting yet another warning of some article that was posted on my page four or five years ago. I’m not sure what to do, since it’s hard to imagine being able to carefully dissect every single thing I’ve posted since 2008 to determine if it is in violation of a set of community standards that appear to be as arbitrary as they are confusing.
I’ve seen people post naked pictures on Facebook without being warned, suspended, banned or reprimanded.
I’ve seen people cuss up a storm, talk about someone’s mother, threaten to murder their homeboys in a rival gang, provide genital pics, get shot on film, and show suicide videos. I even saw someone share a video of a woman having sex with a dog. Yet, despite all of this craziness, my black friends are being banned for sharing black history articles that are factually verified by numerous sources.
Apparently, Facebook has decided that outspoken Americans are no longer wanted on their platform. Based on what I am seeing, any form of assertive dialogue, mild controversy or ethnically-oriented information dissemination will have the platform treating you like both a child and a criminal.
It’s hard not to imagine government involvement, since there are quite a few experts who are already concerned about whether or not government agencies are using Facebook to spy on billions of people at one time. In fact, several countries are starting to squash the use of Americanized social media giants out of fear that our government is using these companies to spy on America’s enemies.
What this says about the future of Facebook, I have no idea. I’m not sure how this form of blatant, racist and unAmerican censorship is going to help their business model. Many of my friends are getting sick of the platform. They were already irritated by the fact that a person with 10,000 fans on their page would only have their posts shown to 40 people at a time. Even worse, Facebook has been found to be so addictive that it’s being called “the cigarettes of this generation.”
But for black people, this is a clear clarion call for us to do what we probably should have done many years ago: Start supporting social media platforms that are owned by black people. You can keep your Facebook login if you’d like, but it’s time to also support other platforms that won’t ban you for mentioning Harriet Tubman.
Tariq Nasheed has an app called MoorUs that has been launched. I wanted to use the app, but I don’t have an iPhone. But knowing Tariq, I’m sure he’s making the app available on iPhone right now.
I was also introduced to a platform called BlaqSpot.com, which I have joined and I love. I found myself breathing a sigh of relief as I suddenly met hundreds of other like-minded black folks who are ready to get off the Facebook plantation. The company is not publicly-traded, so there is likely to be less money grubbing than what we’ve seen on Facebook over the last several years. I was so happy with what I saw that I did a review of the platform on my youtube channel.
What appears to be clear is that it could be time for many of us to move beyond Facebook. The company has become too white, too greedy, too careful, too powerful and too dismissive for comfort. Many people are building multi-million dollar businesses on Facebook. The idea that people are losing their accounts and their pages without adequate due process is nothing short of a form of economic fascism.
For African Americans, social media has given us the voice that we didn’t have for so many centuries in this country. It has bought us together like never before, and allowed us to change the world. Now that we have reached this apex in our evolution as a people, it is time that we change our own world and make that a world where the bulk of our hopes, dreams and organization can’t be killed by a big blue Wizard of Oz-like figure out in Silicon Valley.
The point in all of this is that there appears to have been a significant change in the way Facebook does business. This is beyond the uncomfortable change in operating procedure that occurred when the company went public. Now, the company has gone beyond the boundaries of corporate greed and gotten into good old fashioned structural racism and the suppression of American civil liberties.
This is a huge disappointment for those of us who were once big fans of Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook is no longer the company it used to be, and I’ll now be spending more time at the Blaqspot.